Learning God – A study for Lent 2022
If we are to learn God, then we need to be as little Children and to allow God to fill our conscious imagination, and in childlike trust follow the Way of Jesus
This week we begin a four week exploration of The Sermon on the Mount. This is a fundamental part of our ‘Learning God’, as Israel in the Wilderness came to Sinai (although this is not the same, for Jesus is the fulfilment of all that has gone before, of which Sinai is but a part – Hebrews 12:14-end).
The opening of the Sermon, the setting is important, and most English translations obscure this by misunderstanding that figures of speech are never just ‘figures of speech’. Jesus, seeing the crowds went up the mountain – Moving towards the Heavenly Realm – and there he sat down. The seated one is the one with Authority and Judgement – it might be interesting for a moment to consider our attitude to sermons in this regard? The Cathedral is the site of the Bishop’s Cathedra (Seat). Judges sit, defendents stand. Kings and Queens are enthroned. We stand up (or some of us do when someone higher up the order comes into the room (Which is the root of why I was told always to stand when a woman entered the room)
Jesus takes his seat (Rev 20:12) and his disciples come to him. Those who know their life to be in his hands (They have of course left everything behind to follow him. However confusing they find what he says and does, they only have his life, of which they are learners, disciples).
Then ‘he began to teach them, saying’ (NRSV) – here in particular we miss the impact of the words. Literally, ‘and opening his mouth he taught them, saying’ . . . cf Matt 4:4.
Allow this to sink in
How do we respond to this?
The Greek word for mouth is ‘stoma’. Those of us with a Biological background will know that this is the name of the small holes which open and close in leaves to allow the life giving exchange of gases. (You might like to ponder not only this, say in the light of Psalm 1:3; but also that ‘Spirit’ in both Greek and Hebrew is a word which means Spirit/Wind/Breath John 6:63)
So, what is this life giving teaching? Firstly it is pronouncement of the ‘Makarioi’, the ‘Blessed’ in most translations. But perhaps Eugene Petersons translation about which he has written, ‘Fortunate’, is a little closer. (As always direct translations are at best, approximations)
Dallas Willard, from an American context suggests that all Jesus is saying is that his good news ‘extends to those who are losers in the world . . .’ Given what follows I suggest he may be wrong, not least in the very plain parallel passage in Luke where the ‘Blessings’ are contrasted with the ‘Woes’.
In what sense are The Beatitudes (as we commonly call them, The Blessings) for those in The Wilderness? Take time to recall what we have learnt about Agency in the past couple of weeks, not least how The Wilderness gives us a truer appreciation of our place in the scheme of things (You might also like to consider how the Book of Job does precisely this . . .)
Certainly the Makarioi don’t look that way in the World’s eyes . . . How can we learn new ways of seeing? Simply meditating upon these Blessings can open us up to a renewed imagination regarding the Kingdom of God. Take time to do this
If these are the blessed, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes much of how the disciples are learning ‘poverty of spirit’, ‘Mourning’, Peace making and the rest, do our attempts to ‘make the world a better place – note that while God loves the World, the World is the dominion of ‘The Prince of this age’ – actually take us further from God? Note Jesus strong words in Matthew 23:15. After all just how well is the human project of improvement going?
Jesus then perhaps gives yet more shocking teaching, but perhaps we miss it’s meaning? Before reading verses 13-15, read verse 16. What first comes to mind?
Now consider the nature of Salt, and Light. What is the common purpose of both?
Think of food, why is salt important, apart of course from nutritionally?
Now look around you, why is light important?
For a rather alarming example of what being Salt and light does NOT mean, consider Acts 12:22-3.
What is the purpose of our saltiness and light? How might that contrast to our initial thoughts about verse 16?
How does this relate to a child ‘reflecting the parent’?
(When we consider ‘Treasures in heaven’ in two weeks time, we shall give this some more consideration, but for now, how might we misread verse 16 and store up treasures which decay?)
The Life of Overflowing Righteousness . . . in the Image of God